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Chile: Students Arrested After Protesting Against University Reform

A week ago the government announced a major reform to the higher education system [es], which currently coexist with traditional [es] and private universities. This reform, created without the participation of the universities or the students, has been met with strong opposition from the president of the Universidad de Chile (University of Chile) Víctor Pérez [es] and the Federation of Students of the University (FECH) [es].

El Ciudadano [es] explains what this reform consists of:

Esta se centraría en una reforma a la institucionalidad de la educación superior, la creación de un sistema único de créditos y becas, el cambio del financiamiento a las Universidades reforzando los fondos concursables y los convenios de desempeño, una revisión a Becas Chile y una mayor información en torno a la acreditación de las carreras.

This will focus on the institutional reform of higher education, the creation of a single system of loans and scholarships, the change in funding to universities by strengthening competitive funding and performance agreements, a review of Becas Chile (Scholarships Chile) and increased information about the accreditation of careers.

Readers left comments [es] in favor and against the reform in an interview in newspaper La Tercera [es], where Juan José Ugarte, chief of higher education in the Ministry of Education, talks about the reform. User Pablo Muller wrote:

me parece buena la idea, finalmente es lo que ocurre en todos los lugares con buena educación superior en el mundo, la beca es al estudiante, no a la institución. hay 60 universidades en chile, ¿son realmente TODAS necesarias? Yo diría que alm neos 20 están de más

I think it is a great idea, in the end that is what happens in all places with good higher education in the world, the scholarship is for the student, not the institution. There are 60 universities in Chile, are they really ALL necessary? I would say that at least 20 are unnecessary.

Luisa Emilia also commented, saying that she does not think this reform is the right solution:

Totalmente contrario a los proyectos que nacieron en el congreso de Educación que se realizó el año pasada, sin duda el gobierno no conoce o no le interesa lo que grandes actores de la educación han decidido. Hay que hacer una reforma de la educ. superior pero ésta tiene que resguardar la insitutuciones públicas para que representen o verdadero desarrollo para el país.

This goes completely against the projects that were born in the Congress of Education that took place last year, without a doubt the government does not know or does not care what the great actors of education have decided. There needs to be a reform of higher education but it has to protect public institutions so that they can represent real development for the country.

On June 21 –two days before the protest took place– Julio Sarmiento [es], President of the Federation of Students of the University of Chile, referred to the reform on Twitter and said:

@Sarmiento510: Pensando como la parar la Agenda privatizadora del MINEDUC para que no perdamos lo poco de Educación Pública que tenemos.

@Sarmiento510: Thinking about how to stop the privatization agenda of the Ministry of Education so we don't lose what little we have of public education.

Under this context, in the inauguration ceremony of president Perez in the main building of the University of Chile, Casa Central, a student protest led by the Sudent Federation was repelled, and eight of its leaders arrested [es] after shouting slogans against the reforms announced by the administration. A video on YouTube [es] shows the students protesting.

The Federation of Students also criticized the fact that students were beaten [es], and considered these actions from the police as a violation of university autonomy:

En esas condiciones la Directiva de la FECh decidió no ocupar su palco en la ceremonia y subir junto al resto de los estudiantes al segundo piso, al Presidente de la FECh no se le permitió el ingreso a este lugar por parte del equipo de seguridad del Presidente, argumentando que esto podría agitar a los estudiantes y enturbiar la ceremonia. Lo que consideramos que corresponde a una violación de la autonomía universitaria y la libertad de expresión.

Under these conditions, the directive of the Federation decided not to occupy its usual box at the ceremony and go with the rest of the students on the second floor, the President of the Federation was not allowed to enter into this place by the President's security team, arguing that this might stir up the students and disturb the ceremony. Which we consider corresponds to a violation of university autonomy and freedom of expression.

Ivonne Valdes reacted [es] to the news through Twitter:

@sweetanabelle: estudiantes de U de Chile detenidos sólo por manifestarse contra Piñera!!!, parece que de verdad creen que hemos vuelto a la dictadura

@sweetanabelle: students at the University of Chile detained only for protesting against Piñera!!!, it looks like they really think we have gone back to the dictatorship [of Augusto Pinochet]

Rodrigo Buzada also shared his opinion [es] on Twitter:

@Buzada: Es una vergüenza que el Patrono de la U. de Chile permita que sus estudiantes sean detenidos en la Casa Central

@Buzada: It is embarrasing that the President of the University of Chile allows his students to be detained at Casa Central

Opponents of the reform hope that as result of the student reactions and statements by university authorities, the government will being to emphasize dialogue and stakeholder participation as a key part of the reform. Although both sides seem to agree that improving standards and financing of universities is necessary, this incident and the discussion behind it raises questions about whether the government's actions are intended to strengthen the public system or dismantle it in exchange for a private one.


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